It’s Still Ayoba, Babies

As you will have noticed, I took a long sabbatical away from my blog. I had a few reasons: it’s time-consuming; posts can take me an entire day and I don’t earn any money off it, so paid work has to come first. Then, trolls abound on this thing called the internet and it’s upsetting and exhausting being the recipient of gratuitous viciousness. But most significantly of all – and it’s hard to admit this – I started to get swept up in the bad stuff and the negativity surrounding our country, and I wasn’t sure I agreed with myself anymore. And that was a problem.

One thing about this space is that I’m not answerable to anybody; I write what I believe and I always tell the truth. Or, my truth. Which is why, over the years, people have learnt to trust me and they reach out for an agenda-less version of what life is really like in South Africa. ‘Is it okay to come here to study?’ foreign students ask me. Yes! I tell them, and they come (and sometimes never leave). Or, South Africans come back from Australia and the UK and write to tell me how the blog helped them make their decision and that they’ve never been happier in their lives. 

But loadshedding has been hard on the collective psyche. Covid was a disaster for us economically, never mind the foolishness of some of our lockdown laws. Cyril and his mattress have let us down (where are his words, that Scorpio?) Crime, corruption and unemployment are rampant thanks to our useless government. How to live with all these truisms and maintain a positive outlook without sounding downright silly became a challenge. Over coffee a while back a friend said, ‘you wrote those early blogs nearly a decade ago. Would you say the same things today?’ And I had to honestly answer, no. And answering no made me sad. 

But then I went to Europe on holiday. I get that going to Europe on holiday is the domain of the privileged few, and if I didn’t have a husband whose family and work are based in northern Europe we would certainly not be able to do our annual trek. But I do, and we did. And my word, did it ruk me right in about 14 seconds. It’s so easy to get mired down by the problems this country faces. And I don’t mean to minimise how hard life is for many people. But there are still so many amazingnesses to life down here and we forget them because we are used to them and we think everything must be better in The Overseas because there is less crime. 

But it’s not, my guys. I promise you. Especially now after Covid. They are kakking off for real, just like us. It’s easy to lose perspective and to start envying people in other parts of the world, but a month overseas opened my eyes and changed my mindset (thank G-d). Like the Buddhists say, two people can walk down the same road and have a totally different experience of it. It’s what you choose to see. And often you need to leave for a bit in order to understand how rich and joy-filled and sunny and privileged our lives here still are. 

Yes, many things don’t work but so many things do and we don’t often focus on that part of the narrative. I’m not going to go into a whole story, but I will say that I learnt some important things talking to my friends who live abroad: that the schools in many parts of Europe are struggling to cope with the massive influx of foreign children from war-torn countries who don’t speak the language and are traumatised. Teachers and school staff are trying their best to integrate them, but while they do this, local children – inevitably – get overlooked. A friend’s 8-year-old still couldn’t read. Some schools in downtown Malmö (southern Sweden) have classes where the learners are 100% foreign, usually Arabic. A close friend of mine is a librarian in one of these schools. It is not easy for anyone. Swedish families don’t want to send their kids there because none of the learners speak the language. Teaching these children Swedish takes priority, so everything is slowed down. Native Swedes move away from certain areas for this reason. Just like here. 

The healthcare systems are overburdened and no longer working very well (I’m trying to be fair; many people will tell you they don’t work at all). Friends in Sweden (who already pay a premium in tax) are having to take out private medical insurance at huge expense because you wait so long to see a doctor, even longer to see a specialist and years to get surgery. Trains are overfilled, late or don’t run at all because staff were laid off during Covid and have not been re-hired. It’s tough times out there, not just for us. Europe is fantastic, has lots more money than we do and a buffer to cope with crises like our recent pandemic, but it is not the utopia many South Africans imagine it to be. I love Scandinavia deeply and miss it and look forward to going back each year, but it’s a mistake to believe everything beyond our borders is better. 

The other day outside gym I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in some years. He is very negative about South Africa. I understand his reasons. He is a civil servant who finds himself on the wrong side of history. His teenage daughter just did a scholastic exchange in Germany. He wants to move to Germany. ‘It’s so free there,’ he enthused. ‘She can take public transport at night.’ ‘She can,’ I agreed. ‘One can take public transport at night. But then you have to live amongst Germans.’ I have nothing against Germans. My granny was German. I am fully one-quarter German. I love Berlin; it’s one of my all-time favourite cities. I love Rostock and its Christmas market. I play Alphaville in my car.

But what people don’t realise is that when you move to another country, you gain some things but you also lose a lot of things. More things than you understand when you’ve never done it. You are not moving to South Africa without the crime, you are moving to Germany with German weather and German traditions and German rules and German Germanness. Culture shock is real and it’s lonely AF always being the odd one out. Never getting the joke. And I don’t mean to be rude but my goodness, I have visited a few times and not eaten one single good meal in that country. Even the eisbein is shocking. They boil it, for the love of. They do it much better at The Dros in Stellenbosch for a fraction of the price. 

Also, Paris. We were just there. We stayed in a very fashionable, hellishly expensive apartment in Montmartre. To call it compact would be an understatement. The whole thing was about 25 square meters in diameter. You climbed a narrow, frighteningly steep staircase to get to the seventh floor. You climbed into a cupboard to use the toilet. Everything was miniature, like a Barbie house. At 2am on a Monday morning the noise from the street made it impossible to sleep. It was hot (and due to get much hotter in the ensuing months), but if you opened a window you got eaten alive by mosquitoes. Paris is every version of magical; the entire city is like a movie set, but it’s noisy and busy and the food is expensive AF – and, frankly, underwhelming. You get better French food on Bree Street and at my friend, Marlene’s, house. I love Paris. But we live well here. And honestly, the croissants taste the same as anywhere.

Here, you go to Gallow’s Hill to renew your driver’s license and people say salaam and molo, sisi. You might wait a bit, but the people in the queue will be friendly and chatty and share their granny’s chicken masala recipe with you. Or you go to the Labia cinema on a Sunday night with your mom who has a dicky knee and can’t walk far but there’s nowhere close to park so you tell the parking attendant of your situation and three seconds later he’s whipped a couple of cones out the way and is directing you to park on the pavement meters away from your show. I mean. It’s a thing. Try that shit anywhere else, they’ll arrest you. Despite all the stuff we deal with, there is always a friendly word; a ready smile. A joke. A sense of humanity that makes you feel like you’re part of something. You’re with your people. They’re mad and they dress funny, but they’re yours. 

And expensive things are affordable. To get your hair highlighted or your teeth fixed or to buy a nice steak in Paris or Denmark, or order a bottle of wine (or anything) in a restaurant and you’ll pay out your bunghole. Yes, there is good public transport. You’ll wait for your bus in a wet little cubicle with smokers, your nice shoes in a bag because you’ll have to walk a way from the bus stop to your destination. It won’t be cheap. You’ll have at least one stop on the way where you will repeat the process. It will take you a decade to get there. In the end you just stop going out. Or, we did, especially when we had young kids. It’s just too hard. Here, an Uber on a Saturday night costs you R30. Or you drive. There’ll be no traffic and plenty of places to park. A bottle of nice wine costs the same as a glass of shit wine in Sweden. Restaurant food is better and incomparably cheaper. Things in SA are easy and accessible in a way they are just not in Europe (or Australia or the States). We don’t know how good we have it.

I’m sure, after a while, I’m going to get grumpy about Eskom again, but right now I’m so happy to be home it doesn’t even phase me. I light candles, read by the light of a paraffin lamp and spend some time gazing out of my window at the darkness of the African night. Out there, in all those houses and apartment blocks, are people who know who Riaan Cruywagen is and love Marc Lottering and are cross about the fishpaste. You don’t know how precious this until you don’t have it anymore. Your country, your tribe. There is something very comforting about knowing where your home is. Anyway, I’m back. Thanks for waiting.

97 thoughts on “It’s Still Ayoba, Babies

    1. I can’t seem to reply directly, but please you have posted again. Your points are good, but not representative of living in another country, but rather a city. As a Capetonian I have lived in the UK, Cyprus and now Australia and whilst certain things you say are true, there are many that are as good in these other countries that have been overlooked. Cape Town is brilliant and I miss it, but that’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed a great time/life over the past 27 years outside of SA.

  1. YES YES YES YES YES. And Scorpios play their cards close to their chest anyways…..I just trust he is collaborating in a way that holds all the bit players together. A fall out could have hectic implications. Though I think this danger has shifted. But I agree – if you are happy where you are, all the drama notwithstanding, why go elsewhere to try and find the happiness that lives, at this point, as a mental projection only? So glad you back writing. LOVE your blogs. Later for the trolls.There are always Ms Moaners everywhere

  2. Welcome back, I have so missed this, beautifully said Susan. “They’re mad and they dress funny, but they’re yours” absolutely love this 💕

  3. Welcome back! I was so excited to see your post in my emails. I was born in Zambia, grew up in Kimberley, lived in CT, Jhb, Amsterdam, Paris, Bangkok and England. We go back to SA every year for a few months. I’ve been back to Paris to try and find what I loved about it when I lived there in the 70’s but am always so disappointed, especially the food . The little small family-run bistros no longer exist. I agree with everything you say, but one can only be truly happy in SA if you can harden your heart to the suffering. Here at least people are being taken care of in some way. It’s not perfect but it gives one some peace of mind.

  4. OH MY WORD I am so glad you are back – I was thinking about you the other day when going through my archived mail and wondering where you went. Thank YOU for coming back and writing once again, still gives me goosebumps!

  5. So glad you and your blog are back, I missed it. You always seem to be grappling with similar things and thoughts as I am but articulate them far more eloquently

  6. Hi Disco Pants

    This is one of the best blogs you have ever written. Welcome back!

    Kind regards Caroline

    Caroline Balkwill Replenishment Buyer Imports Buying Department Switchboard: 021 508 5313 Email: CarolineB@coricraft.co.za This e-mail and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. ​To view Coricraft’s E-Mail Disclaimer: Click Here ​ ​PLEASE NOTE – BANKING DETAILS WILL ONLY BE CHANGED WITH FORMAL NOTIFICATION FROM THE CFO. ANY AMENDED BANKING DETAILS PURPORTEDLY ORIGINATING FROM THIS OFFICE SHOULD BE DISREGARDED AND REPORTED.

  7. Awww. Awesome. This brightened up my wintery day. Made me feel warm and fuzzy. Reminding me of reasons to hang in there. Spring will come. No place like home. I know.

  8. Profound blog once again. Thank you so much. Missed you while you were gone.

    I totally agree with you that, in spite of all that is wrong with this country, it is still the best place to live. Europeans are wonderful, but they are not “onse mense.”

    Let us stay hopeful and do what we can to make South Africa the amazing country we all know and love.

  9. <3 … bear with me, I am trying to send you a heart. I don't have emojis on my keyboard (or I don't think I do??!) but here's a hug too ** ) … I could add so much more in support of your renewed positiveness, but you have said so much, so well in this. As you always do. Thank you.

  10. Don’t stop inspiring everyone. This Blog is something everyone should be reading right now… Thank you for brightening up the day xx

  11. Just WOW. I sent the email I go to to a handful of SAFFA friends and relatives – so so so true – with this message. Thank You Susan – Hello Lovely Humans,

    I know we have different views of things, and life is not always as much jol as we assume it is, I have been following this blog for years, the lady who writes it often has me in stitches, especially when I am having a kak day.
    I am sharing this with you today, Chervonne and I have just been back to SA for family matters, but for the first time I didn’t want to stay. Sometimes you have to have a different perspective and I don’t always remember the JOY, only…
    no matter how sad it was to be home, I got HUGS despite COVID and just recently having recovered and being unwell. I had PURE Joy at the reaction of Saartjie and Rosie seeing ME Imagine that, someone was super happy to see me and despite everything gave me BIG hugs! We found a really great cleaner standing at the ROBOT (JA not a Treffiek Light) in Centurion, who cleaned like a WHIZZ and helped sort my Mom’s place out ( where else can you pick up a person on the street to clean your home and not find that weird?) Enjoy the read, I know I did. With Gratitude – Veronique

  12. Thank you for this wonderful message. Power outages water restrictions strikes exhorbitant petrol prices – Europe has it all! We have all that too along with warmth and smiles and strangers who talk to each other

  13. Welcome back Susan! Oh how I have missed you🥺
    I’ve just returned to the UK from a wonderful trip back home. I miss Africa – as well as her faults and cracks – every day.
    Your blog is a balm to my soul. Thank you.
    Chris

  14. Thank you for this uplifting message, so nice to read your latest blog which re-affirms that despite everything SA is a great country. Having children and grandchildren abroad and us growing older here in SA sometimes feels a bit scary but the comfort of all the familiar things here does help, especially the lovely sunny weather that I am enjoying right now on my patio!

  15. Cannot tell you how nice it was to see your blog pop up again in my inbox! Welcome back, keep it up, and stuff the trolls!

    Great piece, and couldn’t agree more with everything you say – SA remains what it has been my entire life, really……and I’m 68 (sies!)…..gorgeous, but ugly, exhilarating, but infuriating, and bright, but dark. We are a combination of accursed and blessed?

    Lucky enough to spend two months a year in France, and love it, but could never live there, and am always delighted to be back. Friends who visit are always blown away, fascinated, and also overwhelmed by the friendliness, colour and vibrance.

    Simon Rosholt P.O.Box 2142 Dennesig 7601

  16. Love it that you’re back. Love it even more that you are authentic and honest and that’s why you took a break.

  17. this blog was worth waiting for. you are an utter delight. clever, funny, magical woman I want to be your best friend!

  18. Hooray!! I agree on every level!! Whatever happens out there, this is my place, my people and the problems I am passionate to see solved. I wish them all the best with theirs! At tea with a friend just back from her son’s wedding in Germany was saying how lovely and friendly and funny our waiters are, how her son says that is a symbol of everything here he doesn’t have there, with surly and disinterested servers. And how (as two lawyers) they are unlikely to be able to afford a decent sized flat in Munich without help from her German family. And the casual racism in Germany and Sweden, where he says the bus won’t stop if there is just one black person waiting at the stop. I don’t usually play this game of better and worse but I do love being here every day, and find it hard that everyone tries to convince me I’m wrong! PS British born and family over there.

  19. Love it. The grass isnt always greener on the other side of the world. Pity the naysayers cant be honest with themselves and acknowledge that yes, we do have a lot wrong in South Africa but so do all the other countries in the world.

    Regards

  20. Thank you! I could not agree more.
    We lived in Europe for 12 years but came back.
    Right now in the UK or a month.
    I miss Cape Town!
    I hope you don’t mind outing this on y South Africans Worlwide page.
    People need an eye opener.

  21. Thank you for this. It was such a good read.

    Made me feel nostalgic and proud of being South African and for staying in the most beautiful city in the world – Cape Town. Also, a timely reminder of how lekka the people are here; the insanely fabulous restaurants on our doorstep, and so many other things. Also, nothing, but nothing, beats a Summers evening in Cape Town. The list is truly endless.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  22. Thank you for this wonderful blog, I have missed your honest and so true view. I have lived in the USA thank God a small city Savannah, GA. It has been a really somewhat good and hard 31 years, only because I have decided to make the best of it. I have not changed I am still that girl from Cape Town…friendly, honest and happy to talk to everyone I meet (in groceries stores, public places) I have married an American 14 years and I struggle everyday because he says things like those people cannot be your friends you just met them lol…there is defiantly a culture difference. Thank goodness that I have children, daughter in laws and grandchildren that are just like me and maybe they will be the future to change the ways…. much love I miss home so much but hopefully will visit next year.

  23. Cheese and rice, this is exactly what I’ve been feeling this week.
    We are SA’s living in France (not Paris thank f***). And we have just arrived back from a month in south Africa and everything you have written about is what I feel. South Africans have true to god, the best food in the world- and I’m a chef.
    It’s taking some time to readjust after our holiday- my 11 year old daughter is miserable to be back in France 🇫🇷 , and she’s lived here for 9 of her 11 years.
    I’ve just spent a day writing about our collective emotions on my blog. Questioning if it’s the right thing. Thing is- as you say, in order to love the German lifestyle, you need to be German. Being an expat is hard. But a decision that we ultimately made.

  24. Welcome back… I have REALLY missed you!
    Living in ‚magical’ Europe now for 20 years, I can honestly still say I wish I didn’t. I was home in June, and immediately felt that which you speak of… :(.
    Thank you for your honest, fantastic blog!!!

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